So , another long trip up the M1/M6 – but lovely Liverpool at the of it, so we do not mind! Why lovely Liverpool? Well, because we were off to the Allergy & FreeFrom Show North of course, although this time we stopped off on the way to visit Udi’s at their bakery in Hawarden, just south of Chester.
In the US Boulder Brands, Udi’s parent company, is the biggest gluten-free manufacturer with a combined turnover of $550 Million. Yet in the UK the Udi’s bakery products come out of one remarkably compact bakery just across the Mersey from Liverpool. This is the Davies Bakery, designed and built five years ago by Simon Hazlett, a fifth generation master baker who is now the face of Udi’s UK.
As master bakers, the Davies family were very much hands-on bakers so, for a company supplying tens of thousands of loaves into the supermarkets each week, the bakery is remarkably un-automated. But in fact, a compact, relatively un-automated bakery is ideal for baking free from. Because the ingredients used in freefrom baking are less consistent and less stable than those used in conventional wheat-flour baking, it is important to be able to monitor and adjust the process as you go along. This would be impossible on a pre-programmed production line but can be done relatively easily when using Simon’s wonderfully funky individual ovens.
None the less, given the sheer quantity of breads, flat breads, bagels, pizza bases and muffins that they are turning out both for their own brand and for own brand labels, they are now rapidly running out of space. Fortunately, when Simon originally bought the site he had the foresight to buy a chunk of extra land next door and plans are now afoot to all but quadruple capacity over the next year to 18 months.
Meanwhile product development continues apace. Soft and flexible gluten free pizza bases and onion and garlic flat breads are just two of their recent product launches in bakery and there are plenty more in the pipe line such as Chocolate and Raisin Clusters, Tortilla Chips, and a range of Snacking Bars. So watch that Udi’s space…..
And, if you are travelling abroad, Simon tells me that they have already launched a range of gluten-free products in Portugal and are in negotiations with various retailers in Spain so may you will not need to take off to Spain with your bags filled with gluten free loaves for much longer!
Anyhow, pleasant though our visit was, we could not spend all day hanging around the ovens imbibing the smell of freshly baked bread as we had a stand to set up. So off we went, under the Wallasey tunnel, to Albert Dock and the very smart new Liverpool Exhibition Centre.
As those of you who have spent time in exhibitions will know, one exhibition hall is very much like another but this one does have the benefit not only of being brand sparkling new, but being slap on the water side – which means that when you get fed up with battling your way up and down the gluten-free aisles you can go and gaze peacefully at the amazing cloudscapes over the Mersey.
Not that most exhibitors at the show had any time for cloud gazing! They were far too busy handing out freshly cooked doughnuts (FEELFREE for freefrom – and here is Sally Allister frying her 500th donut on Sunday…), amazing frozen gluten free profiteroles (Tesco), great new superfood bars (Perkier), artisan sourdough breads (Newburn Bakehouse) or jelly juices (Naturelly) – to mention but a few! And so keen were the lovely Liverpudlians to try all these goodies that on Saturday lunchtime the organisers actually had to ‘close the show’ (only allow new people in as existing visitors left) because visitor numbers were exceeding health and safety limits! Btw, if you want to know what else was on offer, check in to the next newsletter as Cressida will be reviewing all the many delicious freefrom products that she found at the show.
However, I must also mention a skincare find – Miss Nella peel off nail varnish!! This amazing non-toxic, virtuous varnish literally does peel off – no evil acetone remover which makes nail varnish a total no-no for anyone remotely chemically sensitive. It is designed for kids but actually I think would be ideal for anyone who loves to paint their nails but hates the peculiarly unnatural ingredients that go into nail varnish and nail varnish remover.
It is really encouraging for all of us involved in freefrom to see just how well the allergy shows are doing – a tribute of course, not only to the growth in freefrom but to the skill and expertise of the Allergy show team! And they most certainly are not resting on their laurels.
Their experimental outing to Berlin last January as part of the massive annual Berlin food show was sufficiently successful for them to stick their necks out and stage a dedicated freefrom show in Berlin in April. Even more ambitious, they have asked us if we would work with them to create German Freefrom Food Awards – which we are!!! Cressida and I are already polishing up on our non-existent German so that we can go and help at the judging! Meanwhile, back in Blighty, the northward expansion is continuing and March will also see the launch of a new Allergy and FreeFrom show in Glasgow!!
We have so much going on this spring that I am not sure whether we will be gracing Glasgow with our presence this year although we certainly hope to in future years. After Liverpool, Glasgow is definitely my favourite city north of the Watford Gap!!!
Meanwhile, I am happy to report that Liverpool was as delightful as ever. We were joined on Saturday by Hannah, our new marketing lady, which allowed me to sneak off round Albert Dock to Tate Liverpool for a couple of hours. And, being an early riser I was up betimes on Sunday to do my cathedral round….. Unfortunately, I did not check out the opening times before I set off so I did not realize that the Holy Romans like a lie in on Sunday morning so they do not open up till 8pm while the Prots are up and about at 7!!
So I did not get to check out all of those amazing windows again – but it was a pretty grey morning so they would not have been at their best. The Prot cathedral meanwhile was its glorious towering sandstone self, while the hundreds of tombstones in the lovely St James Gardens in the ravine along the side of the cathedral glowered gloomily and soggily in the early morning rain.
And because the views over the Mersey were just so wonderful on Saturday evening, I can’t bear just to file them all away, so here are a few more….